About Graham Salisbury
I hope what gives my books their sense of authenticity, other than the natural inculcation of the island’s physical and cultural landscape, which ends up in my sentences by osmosis, is my use of language. In Hawaii we often speak what we call pidgin English, a kind of tropical patois. For example, in standard English, one would say, “I am going home.” In Hawaiian pidgin, it would be, “I going home.” A simple thing, but over the course of a novel, it becomes a bigger thing, a part of a character’s being. It resonates. Syntax, too, creates that feeling of authenticity. It comes to me naturally, thank heaven. I don’t have to work at it because I simply hear it. If I had to fake, it I’d be laughed off the face of the earth. So, growing up in the islands was my gift. My writing is just me spewing it back.
As for the work itself, I’m big on certain issues having to do with boys and growing up. I guess this is so because of my own fractured upbringing. Much of who I am is self-imposed. I am my choices, and I have chosen to walk a certain path. Important to me are such qualities as honesty, friendship, honor, loyalty, integrity, courage, work, and passion. Life for anyone is a series of choices, and I hope that fact gets some play in my books. Luckily for me, I have made some good choices. It could have been different. I could have taken pride in the wrong moves, as many boys do. It’s cool to be tough. Beating the spit out of someone is good for the rep. It’s honorable to attack someone who “disrespects” you by, perhaps, accidentally bumping into you (“Hey! You like I broke your face or what?”). Right. I could have fallen into that mindset. But I didn’t, and I lay all credit to that on one man: James Monroe Taylor, my high school headmaster.
At the end of my sixth-grade year, my mom saw the light—she kicked my sorry okole out of the house and sent me to boarding school. It was in the middle of Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii, and was the most precious gift she ever could have given me. I loved it. For the first time in my life, I had something I really, really, really needed: limits. It was like being at boot camp. Mr. Taylor, as part of his training, took us into his home in small groups and lectured us on the good qualities of life, all that stuff that is now so important to me: friendship, honor, etc. Of course, it was my duty at that time to laugh it off. That fat old man was out of his head. But his words stuck, and because they did, whenever I was presented with a sticky situation, I was able to fall back on that foundation and use it to make the better choice. My mother and Mr. Taylor—my hat’s off to both of them.
In my career as an author, I’ve spoken to a bazillion kids, mostly in grades six through eight. It’s been fun, truly. But I had an epiphany one day, and my newest creation, Calvin Coconut, came to be because of it.
I once spoke to a large group of fifth and sixth graders in a huge gymnasium, and was leaving the school, heading down the hall with the teacher who had invited me. “There’s a third-grade teacher here in our school who just loves your books,” she said as we walked, “and she asked me to ask you if you would be willing to just stop by her class and say hi to her kids. They know about you, too, because she read them one of your short stories.”
“Sure,” I said. I’d never spoken to third graders. It might be fun.
Boy, was it.
The third-grade teacher and every one of her students were literally glowing with excitement, having the author in their classroom.
They gathered around, sitting in a semicircle on the floor. I sat in a chair next to the teacher, who reached over and picked up a plate of cookies.
The kids all leaned forward, eyes bright as a thousand suns, rascally twinkles in them.
“Would you like to try one of the cookies we made in class?” she said.
I didn't, but I was on duty. “Uh, sure,” I said.
She pushed the plate closer.
The kids did a magnificent job of stuffing back their giggles as I reached out and picked up a yummy-looking but—I could tell—very fake cookie.
The teacher grinned, and I played along and pretended to bite into it. “Bleecck!” I spat, and the kids roared, as if it were the funniest thing they’d ever seen in their lives.
And that’s what got me: those beautiful, beautiful faces, all looking up at me in pure delight.
I ended up telling them a story of when I got stuck in a mass of mud, a story I love to tell, and they laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
I left that school a new man, and vowed then and there that someday I was going to expand my writing to include this group. Because I loved those faces and yearn to absorb that energy.
I also wanted to include this younger audience because teachers have told me many, many times that they just can’t get their boys interested in reading. I know of their plight. I was one of those boys. I read only one book on my own in all my elementary school years: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
So Calvin Coconut and I have a job to do. Call Calvin Graham Salisbury light, because I’m bringing real-life situations and themes for discussion into every Calvin book, just like I do in my books for older readers. I won’t get heavy, I won’t get edgy, and I won’t be gratuitous. None of this is about me. It’s about every kid out there today who is just like the wandering fool I was. Besides the simple enjoyment of writing, my aim is simple: to build trust and turn boys into lifetime readers.
I finally became a reader at thirty. That’s how hard it is to get some boys to read. I’d like to help change that a bit. Because reading changes everything. Oh yeah.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
The relationship between a 13-year-old boy and his stepfather and the lessons they learn from one another create a memorable story set on the island of Hawaii.
Mikey Donovan is fatherless until Bill, a fisherman, marries his mother and moves them and everything they own from Maui to the big island of Hawaii. Now 13 years old, Mikey works as a deckhand on the Crystal-C, a charter boat owned and operated by Bill. Mikey feels that he belongs to the sea and looks forward to each charter so that he can be with Bill, the best skipper in Hawaii.
But when two brothers, Ernie and Cal, charter the Crystal-C, Mikey sees a side of Bill that he didn’t know was there. Mikey clearly understands right and wrong, but Bill talks about something called “in-between.” And it’s the “in-between” that Mikey must learn to live with when Bill signs a paper giving Ernie and Cal full credit for catching a record-breaking fish that he helped them catch.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Graham Salisbury’s family has been in the Hawaiian Islands since the early 1800s. He grew up on Oahu and on Hawaii, graduated from California State University, and received his M.F.A. from Vermont College of Norwich University. His books have received numerous awards, including the prestigious Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Under the Blood-Red Sun. He is also the winner of the John Unterecker Award for Fiction and the PEN/Norma Klein Award. He lives with his family in Portland, Oregon.
Visit the Graham Salisbury Web site at www.grahamsalisbury.com
Ask students to write down ten words that come to mind when they hear the word father. Then ask them to write a brief description about their idea of a “good” father. Encourage those who wish to share their writing in class. What is the difference between a father and a father figure?
THEMATIC CONNECTIONS: Questions for Group Discussion
FAMILY—Describe Mikey’s family. Mikey’s mother tells him that his real father was “afraid of . . . being a father.” (p. 13) Ask the class to list the qualities of a good father. How do they know that Bill is a good father to both Billy-Jay and Mikey? How does Mikey’s mother encourage the relationship between Mikey and Bill? At what point in the story does Mikey begin to see Bill as a father? Describe Ali’s relationship with her father. Explain what she means when she says, “He’s my father. I have to like him.” (p. 55)
HONESTY/DISHONESTY—Bill tells Mikey that he has learned that things aren’t just right or wrong and is fully aware that he is being dishonest when he allows Ernie and Cal’s catch to be registered as a world-record fish. Ask the class to discuss why Bill changes his mind and allows the fish to go down in the record books. Mikey tells Bill, “What they did is wrong and I can’t go along with it. I’m sorry.” (p. 178) Bill replies, “Why are you letting it bother you so much? It’s my problem, Mikey. Not yours. It shouldn’t matter to you.” (p. 178) Why does it matter so much to Mikey?
FORGIVENESS—Bill talks to Mikey about his real father. He says, “Try to forgive him, Mikey. Do that for yourself. He did the best he could.” (p. 12) Discuss how a person can forgive someone they don’t even know. Why does Bill think that it is important for Mikey to forgive his dad? Mikey is disappointed when Bill allows Ernie and Cal to lie about the way they caught the prize fish. “What he wanted was to forget it ever happened. The whole thing scared him. It wasn’t supposed to be like that with Bill.” (p. 169) Discuss whether Mikey ever truly forgives Bill for lying about the fish. Mikey really wants to talk with Bill about the incident. How does communication contribute to forgiveness?
FEAR—There are several times in the novel when Mikey experiences fear. Ask the class to discuss his most fearful moment. How does he deal with his fear when he has to go overboard and cut the line loose? Explain what he means when he says that fear was “behind and below him.” (p. 84) Discuss whether Mikey experiences fear when he jumps overboard at the end of the novel and swims to shore.
COMING OF AGE—Engage the class in a discussion about the meaning of the term coming of age. How does Mikey come of age in the novel? What is Ali’s role in Mikey’s coming of age?
CONNECTING TO THE CURRICULUM
SOCIAL STUDIES—Display a world map and point out the Hawaiian Islands. Divide the class into seven small groups and assign each group one of the seven inhabited Hawaiian Islands to research. Ask each group to find out the following information: population, geography, leading industry, and natural resources. Ask each group to share their findings in class. Discuss how the islands are alike and how they are different.
Ask students to research the “Professional Game-Fish Rules.” Why is it so important to follow the rules? Have them make an illustrated chart of the rules to post on charter boats like the Crystal-C. Why are fishing and game rules considered a social science?
SCIENCE—Bill studies the weather, the currents, and even uses superstition to determine the best fishing spots. Ask the class to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find out how weather conditions affect deep-sea fishing. The class may also enjoy searching for some of the superstitions related to fishing. Ask them to prepare a short talk titled “Fact and Fiction of Deep-Sea Fishing” that they would deliver to a group of tourists onboard a fishing boat.
Mikey assists Bill on the Crystal-C with many tasks. One of his jobs is to select the appropriate lures. Ask students to refer to the Internet site www.hawaiifishinglures.com and find out about the various lures used for deep-sea fishing in Hawaii. Instruct them to make a poster, matching fish with the right lures.
LANGUAGE ARTS—Bill suggests that Mikey write his real dad a letter. Brainstorm the kinds of things that Mikey might say to his father. Then write the letter that Bill suggests that Mikey write. Discuss why it is important for Mikey to write the letter even if he doesn’t mail it.
ART—Ask students to research the various types of fish and sea creatures that live in the Pacific Ocean around the Hawaiian Islands. Have them create a mural collage titled “Under the Sea” that includes every type of living creature indigenous to the area. Instruct them to use accurate colors and textures.
Ask students to search for words that are associated with boats and fishing. Such words may include transom (p. 15), skiff (p. 15), stern (p. 19), gunnel (p. 20), buoy (p. 20), throttle (p. 36), outrigger (p. 39), and gaff (p. 114). Then ask them to identify other unfamiliar words in the novel and try to define them using clues from the context of the story. Such words may include spigot (p. 8), corrugated (p. 12), undulated (p. 19), mediocre (p. 38), repugnance (p. 58), and ferocity (p. 112).
A 2002 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winner
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
"This multilayered novel is a masterpiece of subtlety.“ —Starred, The Horn Book Magazine
BEYOND THE BOOK
The official site of the state of Hawaii.
Hawaii Fishing Lures
A description of the many different types of fishing lures used for fishing in Hawaii.
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
by topic and theme
Blue Skin of the Sea
Hawaii • Coming of Age
Grades 5 up / 0-440-21905-1
Hawaii • Family • Making Choices
Grades 4–8 / 0-440-41573-X
Hawaii • Coming of Age
Family • Values in Conflict
Grades 5 up / 0-440-22803-4
Under the Blood-Red Sun
Hawaii • Family • Fear
Values in Conflict
Grades 5 up / 0-440-41139-4
Where the Red Fern Grows
Family • Fear • Values in Conflict
Grades 5 up / 0-553-27429-5
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina.